School can be the most important time in a person’s life. It shapes who you’ll become and how you will behave and perceive things in years to come. Your experiences at school can affect the rest of your life and be responsible for how much self-esteem you have. So if our time at school can have such an effect on our lives, why is the government still failing so many children?
After my previous post on Skipping School – The Truth about Home Education, there was one underlying factor that affected everyone I spoke to about this both here and on Twitter. The main problem with mainstream education and schools is simply that they do not support students with disabilities, especially hidden ones, (which includes mental health problems) and they do not tackle bullying.
I’ve had my own fair share of experiences in the five years I spent in what was known as a very good/excellent secondary comprehensive school. I spent years keeping these experiences locked in my mind, never sharing them with anyone and dealing with the affect of them mentally. The effect of my schooling on my mental health has been huge. It affected my confidence and my belief in myself. For years I thought I wasn’t good enough to do anything and I left school with no prospects for a career. School was an overall negative experience for me, and despite a few happy times, I regret my life there.
When children are disabled in some way and they enter school, you’d expect there to be some adjustments made, to accommodate the disabled student. But when disabilities are hidden, like asthma, chronic fatigue and diabetes, schools often ignore these as you can’t see the outward effect on a child or teen. This was the experience I had at my secondary school, a place that was rated excellent or outstanding by Ofstead (Office of Standards in Education).
My type 1 diabetes was ignored from the very first day. Although initially some teachers were concerned about a hypo I had, where I had hidden away into the corridor during class to eat something. These same teachers later complained that I was not doing my work when I had other hypos and high blood sugar moments. Within months I had become known as a trouble maker, not for truanting or messing around in class. I wasn’t bullying anyone, dressing inappropriately or destroying school property (there were other girls doing that), but I had become known for being a trouble maker – simply because I wasn’t able to attend every class due to being ill, and when I did attend, if I dared tell the teacher I was feeling ill, they would ignore me and shoo me away to get on with my work.
Physical education was the worst. I had horrible diabetes back then, and my blood sugars were very high in the mornings. Some days I even went to school while in diabetic ketoacidosis (or DKA, a very dangerous life-threatening condition where your blood becomes acidic and you can!) – I didn’t know at the time how serious it was, or how lucky I am that I never collapsed. Every type 1 diabetic knows, or is advised though, to avoid physical exercise until your blood sugars are normal. It’s dangerous to do exercise while blood sugars are extremely high, but that’s exactly what I was doing at school. When I tried to tell the teachers that my blood sugar was high, that I couldn’t breathe (a sign of DKA) they ignored me and worse, demanded that I keep exercising more than the other girls in class. They didn’t care about my disability, because to them I looked normal (except that I was also fat), so ergo I must be fine (and trying to get out of PE because I was fat).
Another problem in schools is bullying, and despite years of governments and teachers promising to tackle it, this still happens in school across the world today. I don’t know if it’s possible to ever fully rid schools of bullying. Children and teenagers who are different might always feel like they don’t fit in. And there will always be groups of people who enjoy bullying these individuals, whether as a group or on their own. But schools do little to eradicate the bullying that they know about.
My own experience at school was horrible. I was bullied by several individuals. Later by a group of girls but in the beginning by just one. On my first day to school I was late and this girl took it upon herself to attack everything about me. To her I was fat, I smelt bad, I was ugly, I was nasty, I was everything negative that you could think of, and she made sure that I knew that. I cried every day coming home, wishing that she would just go away, eventually my Mum spoke to the school about it, but the only response from my Head of Year was: “She’s just a bit boisterous”
‘Boisterous’ was the word my school used to describe the actions of bullying the girl did to me. And nothing changed for the rest of the year. Eventually she was expelled for different reasons (and I don’t hold any bad feelings towards her now), but I had to put up with being bullied the whole time I was at school. It was a horrible experience and made me hate the way I looked for years. It took years after school to repair the damage that the experiences of bullying have done, and in moments of darkness those taunts still come back into my mind.
Schools and education in general, needs a radical overhaul. If I was working in forming education, I would shake up the system and talk to those who left school unsatisfied, to see what they view as failures in the system, in order to fix it. The reality is that school can leave people either happy or very depressed, and plenty of people have not only suffered deep depression from their time at school, but worse, some have even taken their own lives because of it.
I am lucky. I had support around me when I left school and although it has taken years, I have regained confidence in myself. I know who I am and what I want to be. I am happy with who I am inside and everyday that goes on, I feel more confident and happy with myself and the life I now have (this blog and the people I have met have really helped with that). But others out there do not have as much support or need help to see the good in their lives. Education and schooling needs to change, not to accommodate just those who fit the system but to cater to everyone, no matter what their needs or disabilities.
-I have many more posts on my own experiences (some funny, some sad) at school. Some of them tie into my diabetes posts and I’d like to share them in the future, would you be interested in that?
Did you have a positive or negative experience at school? What would you change about your time in schooling, if anything? Would you like to see more posts on education/schooling? Let me know what you think in the comments below 🙂